When families decide not to breastfeed, it costs them and the US healthcare system a bundle and many babies lose their lives unnecessarily. These were the conclusions of an online article published recently in the medical journal Pediatrics.
The last breastfeeding cost analysis was published by the USDA in 2001. In that report, Jon Weimer estimated that in 2001 U.S. dollars, $3.6 billion would be saved if breastfeeding rates increased by just 9%. At that time, 64% of women giving birth breastfed. This USDA estimate included the cost savings from just three health problems: ear infections, vomiting or diarrhea, and necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), an often-fatal bowel disorder that very preterm babies can develop.
Now, almost 10 years later, about 74% of mothers giving birth breastfeed. We also know much more about how a lack of breastfeeding affects health. In 2007, Tufts Medical Center published a meta-analysis of the research on breastfeeding, which included 9,000 studies and calculated babies’ increased risks of many health problems if not breastfed..
Using Tufts’ findings, in their recent article Melissa Bartick and Arnold Reinhold updated the costs to the US healthcare system and estimated the number of lives lost as a result. Like the 2001 article, this one included the costs of ear infections, vomiting or diarrhea, and NEC. But thanks to the Tufts’ data, it added many more health problems non-breastfed babies are more susceptible to, including lower respiratory tract infections, SIDS, childhood asthma, leukemia, obesity, and Type 1 diabetes.
Based on the Tufts’ data, Bartick and Reinhold estimated that if 90% of US babies breastfed at all (for 5 diseases) or exclusively for 6 months (for 4 diseases), in 2007 dollars this would save $13 billion. These authors also estimated that at this level of breastfeeding, 911 lives could be saved each year.
They concluded that due to the considerable costs of not breastfeeding, money spent by the US government on breastfeeding promotion would be cost effective.
Bartick, M. and Reinhold, A. The burden of suboptimal breastfeeding in the United States: A pediatric cost analysis. Pediatrics 2009: DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-1616.
Ip, S., Chung, M., Raman, G., Chew, P., Magula, N., DeVine, D., et al. 2007. Breastfeeding and maternal and infant health outcomes in developed countries. Evidence Report - Technology Assessment (Full Report)(153), 1-186.
Weimer, J. 2001; The Economic Benefits of Breastfeeding: A Review and Analysis. Food and Rural Economics Division, Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Food Assistance and Nutrition Research. Report No. 13.